Tuesday, June 11, 2013

What do the players get to roll?

So the story I've heard is that back in the day Gary Gygax rolled all the dice behind his screen.

Some examples of play in early issues of Dragon and elsewhere did the same - the GM rolled.

In my games, the players roll a lot.

My basic philosophy is that your PC is your playing piece, your representative in the game. You get to roll for it. There is precious little in the game you can control, but you can get to do the rolls that determine your fate. You get to roll to discover the effects and results of your actions.

In my games, this includes but isn't limited to:

- your "to hit" rolls

- your damage rolls

- your defense rolls

- your resistance rolls

- most of your skill rolls (unless they're specifically meant to be rolled secretly in the game)

- your consciousness checks

- death checks

Back in my AD&D days, this was to hit rolls, damage rolls, and saving throws.

I won't always tell you what happens from your roll. You may deal out a triple-damage critical hit and roll 24 cutting damage, and you'll just have to wonder what's keeping the Black Knight still standing after that. But you'll have gotten your rolls.

I won't always tell you what you're rolling for. I might just say "Make a roll - you want to roll low." You get to make the determination, and know whether to cheer ("Yes! I got a 3!") or groan ("Aargh! 18.") "Everyone give me a roll. Roll low."

I'll even give advice on using Luck or not ("I got a 9, do I want to use Luck?" "Yeah, I think you better.")

But I won't take these away unless I absolutely have to. Even then, I'd prefer to let you make the roll even with concealed modifiers and concealed results.

Potential game-enders? I won't ever roll them for you. You always roll your death checks.

It's your guy, your fate should be in your own hands as much as possible.

As the GM, I get to roll for the rest of the game world.

You've got your one guy. Maybe your henchmen or hirelings, too.

But mostly one guy, and the rolls you make to find out how the decisions you made turn out.

And I hate to take that away.


  1. Yeah, any roll that's basically the player's should be the player's. Starting with anything where they might use Luck.

    There was a game in the 1990s which had players making all the rolls (it was all based on a GURPS-style contest of skill, so it didn't in theory matter whether the GM was rolling NPC skill - player skill + die roll or the player was rolling player skill - NPC skill - die roll), but I don't think it was ever terribly popular.

    I'm currently running a Madness Dossier game with cinematic options, which means the players need to know their margin of success/failure in order to decide whether to spend points on it. I'm finding it an interesting discipline.

  2. it bugs me that we ascribe so much agency to our random number generators. If we are correct and they have agency, then they aren't random. if we are wrong, and they are random, there is no agency.

    Yet we still feel that way. I still feel that way. We iz weird.

    1. Mumble mumble quantum physics mumble rabble entangled realities mumble ftaghn

    2. I think I hate the word "agency."

      I just like to roll my own dice. I like to open my own fortune cookies, too, and it doesn't affect what's in it. The rolling is part of the pleasure of the game. It's like opening your own birthday presents. Does it really matter if you do it or someone does it for you? My answer is, yes, and whether it affects the contents or not isn't the issue.

    3. This is probably part of my objection to electronic dice-rollers. Rolling dice is fun.

    4. It's just a weird mental illusion, whatever you call it. Humans feel that rolling the dice is *control,* when it is the opposite of that (unless you are cheating). I have found myself *apologizing* for bad rolls I have made.

      "Sorry guys, my (as far as I know) unbiased random number generator produced an outcome that negatively affects you. My fault."

    5. It isn't "agency" so much as the perception of assuming the risks. By rolling the dice, the player is personally pulling the lever to discover whether the PC lives or dies, hits or misses, etc. That makes it so that the player is responsible for the result from declaration to pulling the random number generator lever. And it takes away any sense that the GM might be fudging die rolls -- at least theirs.

      P.s., "agency" is a fine word. But I'm seeing it used so often I'm getting tired of it as well.

  3. I do the same things roll-wise for the same reasons.

  4. Every now and then, it's fun to have my players "make a Per check" or something similar. Usually this is just before combat begins and gives them partial instead of total surprise. But not always -- sometimes it *IS* to notice something. It keeps them on their toes and can be a lot of fun.


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